Murphy rips Sonics, NASCAR plans
State Treasurer Mike Murphy is blasting proposals to build a new Sonics arena in Renton and a NASCAR speedway near Bremerton, calling the...
Seattle Times staff reporter
State Treasurer Mike Murphy is blasting proposals to build a new Sonics arena in Renton and a NASCAR speedway near Bremerton, calling the plans bad deals for taxpayers.
Murphy says state lawmakers need only look at the financial bottom line from Qwest Field to see how the state's last "public-private partnership" with a professional sports team turned out.
The state will pay about $600 million over 25 years to pay off $300 million it borrowed to build the stadium, Murphy said. The debt is being repaid with a mix of King County taxes and state lottery money approved by a public vote in 1997 — sources that brought in more than $16 million last year.
The Seahawks will pay just $25 million in rent over 25 years, while receiving virtually all of the ticket, parking and concessions revenue from the stadium, Murphy said. Team owner Paul Allen contributed $130 million to the stadium's construction.
"We might as well dispense with calling these things public-private partnerships, because they really aren't," Murphy told the House Finance Committee on Tuesday.
In an interview Wednesday, Murphy was even more blunt in describing the proposed NASCAR and Sonics plans: "The private side gets rich. The public side gets screwed."
Sonics and NASCAR supporters say such criticisms focus narrowly on items such as rent payments and ignore other, more indirect benefits, such as increased tax collections, tourism and jobs created by the new venues.
The stadium's exhibition center does share some profits with the state's schools fund — a total of $800,000 since it opened in 2002.
Since taking office in 1997, Murphy has periodically used his normally obscure position to rail against projects he thinks are raw deals for taxpayers. Two years ago, his criticism of Seattle's proposed monorail project, with its reliance on high-interest "junk bonds," helped kill the plan.
Murphy's position puts him at odds with Gov. Christine Gregoire and Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who have touted the Sonics and NASCAR proposals as potential economic boons.
International Speedway Corp. (ISC), a Florida racetrack developer, wants taxpayers to cover a little more than half the cost of a $368 million track in Kitsap County. The Sonics want at least $300 million in tax money for a $500 million arena in Renton.
NASCAR backers argue that their project is special because it would draw thousands of out-of-state visitors here. According to their economic projections, the additional taxes generated by those visitors would more than cover the costs of the track.
"This project is unique and possibly will be the only one that we will ever see ... that can legitimately and genuinely say that it pays for itself," ISC attorney Gerry Johnson told a Senate panel examining the NASCAR plan Tuesday.
Johnson has experience with taxpayer-funded sports venues. A partner with the law firm K&L Gates, he worked on the plan to finance Safeco Field and continues to represent the public boards that oversee Safeco Field and Qwest Field.
But Murphy has questioned NASCAR's estimates, and the racetrack is opposed by every state legislator from the Kitsap Peninsula.
Sonics backers, meanwhile, say the proposed Renton arena would be a catalyst for economic development in that city. It also would prevent the Sonics and Storm from moving to Oklahoma City after their leases at Seattle's KeyArena end in 2010.
Sonics spokesman Jim Kneeland said the team is hoping to produce a study soon that will outline specific economic benefits of the new arena.
"We need to show it's going to pay for itself, or nearly pay for itself," Kneeland said.
Staff reporter Ralph Thomas contributed to this report. Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or email@example.com
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